Rich Walton, Frontier’s longtime football and baseball assistant, fondly remembers

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Scott Dredge spent a year as an assistant with the Frontier football team before returning to the program in 2005. When he got the job, Rich Walton – who had been volunteering with the team for a few years at this time – asked if he could stay on staff.

“Rich told me he would like to stay,” Dredge said. “He told me that he was not an X and O type, but that he loved being with children and being able to help them. I told him he was always welcome here.

Helping the kids was all Walton wanted to do. For football and baseball players who passed through Frontier in the 2000s, he was the first to praise when things were going well, and the first to cheer them on and rebuild them during tough times.

Walton – who graduated from Greenfield High School in 1974 before joining the United States Marine Corps soon after and serving in Vietnam – started coaching when his son, Richard Walton, got into the sport .

He coached his son’s Pop Warner football and Little League baseball teams, and once his son reached high school, he began volunteering with the Frontier football and baseball programs. Even after his son graduated in 2003, he continued to volunteer with the Redhawks for another decade and more.

Walton passed away after a battle with cancer on August 5 at the age of 67, leaving behind a lasting impact on countless players he coached.

“He was just a great guy,” Dredge said. “Rich and I were close. He was an outstanding guy. He never had enough kindness to say about the players, the parents, the opponents. When he said he wasn’t an X and O type, he didn’t say it because he didn’t want that kind of responsibility as a coach. He really wanted to be there to support the kids. Anyone like that, you can’t refuse. He really had no motivation to be there other than to be there for the kids. It’s such an admirable quality to have as a coach. It’s really sad to see him go. »

The players he coached echoed that sentiment – that Walton was always there to help in any way he could.

“He was someone who was so loyal to Frontier,” said Redhawks baseball coach Chris Williams – who coached football and baseball under Walton when he attended Frontier from 2005 to 2009 – said. “My buddies and I have worked with him in both sports and have always appreciated how willing he was to give his time for us. Finding assistant coaches in the area is difficult. The coaches’ schedule is early afternoon training and that’s tough for a lot of working people. What he gave up regarding his time was special. Everyone had a ton of respect for him.

Not only was he able to earn the respect of his players, but Walton’s other coaches also said they enjoyed having him around.

Walton served as an assistant to Aaron Campbell throughout Campbell’s 10-year career as a college baseball coach at Frontier. Campbell said he couldn’t have had the success he has had without Walton by his side.

“Just be at [his] calling hours, there were at least a dozen ex-players there,” Campbell said. “The kids loved him. He was a good guy. I called him good cop, bad cop. He was always the good cop. When I chewed on someone, he was there to put his arm around him and calm him down. He was great at that. All the kids respected him. The 10 years I coached with him were some of the best years. He contributed to every win we had. He played an important role in shaping these children into young men.

Players remember Walton as the ultimate morale guy. It didn’t matter if you had the best or the worst game of your life, his behavior never changed.

“He was such a great guy,” said Erik Abramson, a 2010 Frontier graduate who played four seasons of football and one season of baseball with Walton. “I think of him as such a moral guy. He was so positive. Whether you played the winning game or needed consolation after making a mistake, he was always there for you. To have someone like that on staff, in the community, he was such a positive guy and so good for morale. He was there for you through all the ups and downs.

“He was the guy who, when things weren’t going well, told you it was going to be okay,” Williams added. “When you scored a point, you couldn’t wait to get back to cover and get a punch and a slap on the back from him. He was the fashion man. He would go to coaching bases, anything he could to boost the spirit of the team.

Andrew Pepyne grew up and was in the same class as Walton’s son, Rich. Pepyne, who played for Walton during youth football and baseball before working with him once he arrived at Frontier, saw Walton as the ultimate community guy.

“He was the epitome of community support,” Pepyne said. “He supported youth athletics and developed young people to be leaders in the community. He was a role model his whole life, not for teaching you how to hit the cut-off or how to form a tackle, for the way he supported young people and allowed them to grow. He let everyone he coached know that they had a cheerleader and someone who was there for them and had their best interests in mind.

While still serving in a volunteer role, Walton never missed Frontier football and baseball competitions.

It wasn’t just the college teams either. Walton would make the JV Monday football trips with the Redhawks – traveling to places like Ware, Athol and Orange. He made sure he was there for the young players on the team, not just for games under the bright lights on Friday nights.

“He was very present,” Abramson said. “He was there because he liked coaching and being around the guys. That’s the kind of guy he was and that speaks for his character. Nobody made him go to these JV games and all the practices. He just liked doing it. Win, lose or draw, he was consistent. He would treat you the same no matter how you played, he just wanted you to go home proud of the effort you put in.

Abramson recalled his first Frontier football practice and saw Walton come onto the field for the first time. The reaction he received upon his arrival showed how much the players appreciated having him around.

“We were lucky to have great coaches,” Abramson said. “There was never a barrier between the players and the coaches, but Rich was the coach of those players. In my first college practice, I saw the reception the guys gave him when he arrived. I’m young and just trying to figure out who’s who but you could tell all the upper class men loved him by the reaction he got Once I met him I saw how welcoming he was to you as a new player.

It was this time and effort that earned the respect of the players, who noticed how much time he spent being around the team.

“He meant a lot to a lot of people for what he gave in time, effort and care,” Pepyne said. “He put in an insane amount of hours, gave up his weekends and wasn’t paid a dime for it. He oversaw an unprecedented period of success at Frontier and his contribution to it demonstrated that every player had the full support of the community. He made you feel like you represented the whole community. That’s something I’ve remembered and everyone who played for him will try to carry on that legacy for future generations.

Walton quit volunteering in 2013 to focus on his children and grandchildren, but he was never far from Frontier’s programs. He attended every home game and was constantly looking to support the teams in any way he could.

“He’s a huge Frontier baseball fan,” Williams said. “Since I took over the program in 2016, he’s been in our scrums at the end of March, he’s been in all of our home games throughout the year. He and I were always in communication with each other, sharing details about the game, what to do better next time. He has always donated to the program in all of our raffles, he showed up at all of our fundraising events. It was so special to have him with me and to work with him as a child and an adult. I’m lucky to have known him. »

Now a coach himself, Williams said he took the lessons he learned from Walton and tried to apply them to the next generation of Frontier players.

“He showed me how important it is to build relationships with players,” Williams said. “You have to get the kids to trust you and accept what you say. If you can mix the right level of kindness and discipline, it goes a long way. It makes the team a lot better when you connect with the kids at that level and Rich was able to do that.

While Walton’s passion for athletic training was evident, it was his love for his family that was most important to him.

“He was super passionate about Frontier sports and helping kids in every way he could,” Campbell said. “Outside of baseball, he was very passionate about his family and his job. He and his wife Sue had a special bond and that’s something I’ve always respected about him.

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